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Park panel irons out fields use

September 22, 2011

PAWTUCKET — Parks Commission Chair Terry Mercer conducted an emergency meeting Wednesday night to request further information as to the fall season permitting process for school athletic and recreational field usage.
In a nutshell, the fact-finding mission revealed that St. Raphael Academy was, in fact, late in its submission for fall sports field use, and the Parks & Recreation Department — specifically Superintendent John Blais or Assistant Superintendent Chris Crawley — will continue to notify interim SRA Athletic Director Fred Saunders as to what sites the school may utilize each afternoon.
According to Mercer, Blais or Crawley will either e-mail or call Saunders and tell him which fields are available for practices conducted by coaches of the varsity football team and boys' and girls' soccer squads.
“We really didn't do anything here,” Mercer stated. “This meeting was held only to inform the commission as to what transpired during the fall field permitting process, especially as it pertains to St. Ray's. A year ago, the commission recommended to the city that it adopts a set of rules for permitting city field and tennis courts for the fall, spring and summer seasons.
“One of those rules for the fall season field permitting process was that applications for use must be submitted, or received, (by Parks & Recreation personnel) by June 15,” he continued.
“It didn't appear that happened with St. Ray's. There was mix-up of some sort, and the application was never received. As I understand it, St. Raphael officials are holding firm to the belief that it was filed.”
Crawley explained to the commission's members that he received an application for use of O'Brien Field, located behind Jenks Middle School, but that it was only for the scheduling of “Captains' Practices” for the football team.
He also indicated that he couldn't open an attachment then-Athletic Director Bruce Gammell had sent with that e-mail due to his “old computer,” He stated he talked to Gammell once in person, and later left three e-mails advising him to submit field use permit applications, but Gammell never called him back.
Crawley claimed that all applications, those submitted by all public and private high and middle schools within the city limits, were received by June 15, except for one for Bishop Keough High's girls' soccer team.
That wasn't an issue, but the Saints' ability to use O'Brien Field for practice apparently was. Jenks' soccer teams now practice at that location; if they don't, school officials are asked to call the Parks & Recreation Department to say so. If that's the case, and no other school is using the site, St. Raphael is allowed to train there.
“Whenever Jenks' soccer teams are home or away (for games), St. Raphael football has the field,” Crawley stated to the commission's members.
In an interview with The Times, he noted he was puzzled that Gammell hadn't called him back, but figured – like most athletic directors in Pawtucket – he was just enjoying his summer. He also mentioned he knew Gammell had married this summer, and assumed he was busy with those plans.
“The deadline for fall sports field permits was June 15th, and St. Raphael didn't meet it,” he said. “Fred Saunders is the new interim AD, and he submitted an application for use of O'Brien Field for the football team on Sept. 12.
“We figured everything was in, as we don't go through the applications until late August,” he added. “When we found out no application had been filed from St. Raphael, John Blais notified the school. It was Tuesday, Sept. 6 when we realized no application had been submitted.”
Former Parks Commission member Maggi Rogers, the lead plaintiff in the American Civil Liberties Union's ball field access lawsuit against the city filed in October 2009, mentioned it wasn't the application process that should be lauded but the legal process.
“I apologize for taking the wind out of your sails, but it's the legal process that works, not the application process,” she said. “In my opinion, the (application) rules are not well-written, and we (in the city) don't have enough fields. I'd encourage people to really look at that application process.”
Stated Mercer, a lifelong Pawtucketer who represented Tolman High athletics in the early 1980s and graduated in 1983: “I'd respectfully disagree. Previously, I think the intent always was to get as many teams on the appropriate type fields as possible, but the rules are the rules, and they need to be followed. I'm sure this caused some problems with some St. Ray's parents, but I also think there's no penchant for preferential treatment in terms of parceling out city fields.”
To rectify the issues come the spring field permitting process, Blais and Crawley indicated that a “hard copy” application be utilized, with copies going to the participating schools and the Parks & Recreation Department.
“I've lived in this city all my life, and I played sports here for Darlington American and at Tolman; I've coached, umpired and officiated here. I've been on all these fields, and I don't think we have a shortage for fall sports … For the last 20-plus years, we've used logistics and common sense as to what fields a school should use.
“I've said all along about O'Brien Field that I didn't see any reason why anyone who wanted to conduct a soccer practice at Jenks couldn't do so at Pariseau Field (adjacent to McCoy Stadium), which is already lined for soccer, and is probably is as close to Jenks' front door as O'Brien is,” he added. “That's always been my thought on that particular issue. I don't think this is about preferential treatment at all, but a logistical thing.
“I know an overwhelming amount of students attend St. Ray's and play sports; I never had a problem with it. That's my opinion, and I understand it's not the official opinion of the commission.”
Mercer stated he spoke with Blais and commission members on Wednesday, Sept. 14, and that there seemed to be a lot of misinformation being bandied about.
That's why he called this special meeting for Wednesday night.
“The whole purpose was to inform fellow commissioners about the situation regarding St. Ray's,” he said. “Chris and John told us what happened, and what has transpired since the problem was discovered. Pure and simple, St. Ray's since then has filed a permit application for the field it had hoped to use this fall.
“Some of those fields already had been permitted out, so St. Ray's, for the past week, has been granted permits on an 'as available' basis for their fall sports practices. They're notified each day about the availability of appropriate fields for the appropriate squads.
“O'Brien is permitted predominantly to Jenks because they completed the application process on time, so if those student-athletes happen to be using O'Brien on any given, say, Tuesday afternoon, the Parks & Rec Department will notify St. Ray's about the football team being moved to another site.
“We didn't foresee a problem this fall when it comes to permitting, but a mistake was made. I don't anticipate a problem in the spring field permitting process, as I'm sure all of the athletic directors will be diligent in dotting their 'i's' and crossing their 't's.'”

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